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Western Press Review: Mideast Cease-Fire, Post-Democratic Society

Prague, 6 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today continues to be dominated by events in the Middle East, as the Israelis and Palestinians maintain a precarious cease-fire. Many commentators emphasize the importance of the international community in brokering an effective Middle East peace accord. Other commentaries address stability versus stagnation in the EU, and Britain's upcoming election on the last day of campaigning and its relation to political culture in the United Kingdom.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" looks at the chances for effective diplomacy in light of the current cease-fire in the Middle East, and emphasizes the importance of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's next move. If Arafat pursues a course of "vigorous action" to head off militants in the next few days, the paper says, "he could create a small window for productive diplomacy to resume between the two sides. If he fails to move," it adds, "he might end up providing political cover for an Israeli counterattack that could destroy his tottering Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza." The paper also notes that without immediate and decisive action on Arafat's part, the pressure will mount on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to order a heightened military campaign.

Neither Israel nor the United States can expect Arafat to single-handedly stop the violence, the paper adds. If he now takes decisive steps, the U.S. and Israeli governments must "respond in a way that can give the nascent cooling-off process some momentum. For Israel that will mean some reciprocal security measures, such as easing the current blockade of Palestinian towns and roads. For the Bush administration it should mean a concerted effort to engage Mr. Arafat in a way that will hold him accountable for his actions but also offer him incentives to abandon the uprising once and for all."


In a commentary in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Wolfgang Guenter Lerch writes that it is now crucial to bolster the cease-fire and lead it into a period of de-escalation -- "despite any isolated outbursts of renewed violence." He adds that Israel would be ill-advised to "marginalize the [Palestinian] leader of the autonomous territories as a signal that it is increasingly looking ahead to the 'time after him.'" Lerch rhetorically asks: "Would the Israelis really be better served if the Palestinian Authority moved away from Mr. Arafat toward individual warlords in a fragmented Palestinian region?

Lerch also looks at the role of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in brokering the current Middle East cease-fire. He writes: "Mr. Fischer has skillfully exploited Germany's role as a provider of (mainly financial) aid to the Palestinians," but adds that "only pan-European meditation can steer the Israelis back to a policy of conciliation."


A piece in the "International Herald Tribune" by analyst Philip Allott looks at the apparent voter apathy in Britain's elections tomorrow and asks, "What has happened to democracy when nobody trusts a word spoken by the contending politicians?" He characterizes the British public's attitude toward the election as "aggressive apathy," and suggests that what he calls "a silent revolution" may be happening, the evolution into a post-democratic society.

He proposes that this new type of society has three defining characteristics: "[First,] government is reconceived as a managerial function, not as a function of power. [Second,] there is an equilibrium of social power between the individual and society. [Third,] public decision-making is a permanent dialogue, rather than a periodic delegation." He adds that this shift in political culture may be a "reassertion of humanity's multidimensionality, the revolutionary idea that [the people] have ideas of our own," and notes that "like all revolutions, [this shift] may make things very much better or even worse."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" considers the effectiveness of the European Union's Stability and Growth Pact, designed to maintain the economic stability of the euro-zone. The paper says that as the pact is interpreted by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, growth is often sacrificed for stability. "As a result," the paper writes, "'stability' seems to be creeping toward stagnation." The paper suggests that Europe's biggest financial problem is marginal income-tax rates that often approach 50 percent and kick in at very low levels of income. The paper says: "These tax rates are antigrowth, and merely serve to steepen the slope that euro-zone countries must climb to reduce their debt and deficit burdens."

The paper suggests that Europe should institute tax reductions to spur growth, and thus achieve stability. The paper concludes, "If the EU is serious about its oft-stated goal of becoming the most competitive economy in the world in a decade's time, stability-through-growth is clearly the way to go."


An analysis in the French daily "Liberation" also looks at the economics of the euro-zone in light of yesterday's Eurogroup meeting in Luxembourg, which convened the 12 finance ministers of the euro-zone nations. The daily says that in spite of attempts to become the new "locomotive of world growth," Europe's economy remains dependent on that of the United States. It notes that virtually all European growth forecasts have been revised to account for falling expectations, but that "the Twelve" remain confident in spite of certain "elements of anxiety" -- a reference to the American economic slowdown.

The paper notes that in spite of the fact that U.S. growth is slower than Europe's, the euro is again flirting with historic lows. It adds: "Everything is happening as if the markets did not believe in a long-term slowing of the only true locomotive, the American one." The paper says that for Europe, this is a "lasting lesson in humility."


"Die Presse" today comments on Austria's latest bid for allies and questions its sincerity. Austria is officially offering EU candidates a "strategic partnership" -- an arrangement, commentator Wolfgang Boem says, where it is not clear if either side is serious. Boem views the diplomacy as an approach "with two hearts." He says: "Anyone who does not mean it seriously should refrain from a partnership. This treasure is too sensitive. Should a partnership break up, [then] everything is worse than before." The relationship, he writes, between Vienna and the governments of the former Iron Curtain countries is tense.

A case in point, he says, is the current debate between the Czechs and Austrians regarding the Temelin nuclear power plant, as well as the question of the transition period for the free movement of labor for EU candidates. He writes: "This is more likely to arouse distrust rather than a leaning (toward each other)."

Austria, he continues, would like to revive its function as a bridge to the East. "But whereas diplomacy and economy is being pursued according to sentiments, it is countered by the domestic policy. Instead of enthusiasm, fear of competition on the labor market prevails."

Moreover, Boem concludes the offer of partnership has come at an inopportune moment, "not only because candidates' membership negotiations are in progress, but also because it appears as if shortly following the sanctions of the 14 EU members that Austria is desperately looking for new friends."


Nikolaus Blome discusses the search for the shape of a future Europe in an editorial in the paper "Die Welt." His article entitled "Europe of Words, Europe of Deeds" again goes over the differing proposals made by France and Germany, which he says have one thing in common: "Practically nobody understands [them]. And if they do find two who could deal with it -- then mostly they would not tackle the same subject."

The author questions whether this will break the Franco-German axis and comes to the conclusion that neither project is viable. This, of course, does not mean that there is no friction between the EU and national interests. But what is really at stake is power.

In fact, he writes Berlin and Paris are far closer than they think -- or are willing to admit at present. The Germans are aware that the national state will always play a role. And the French are clear that the present style only serves an end in itself -- and that only the future functioning will offer proof. The people, he argues, have the right to be ruled properly.

Blome concludes: "So that the dispute over the political horizon of the European Union will not be decided by laying down a code of behavior, but by every single step on this horizon: What particular authority does better, Brussels or the capital cities or regions? All the rest is a smokescreen."


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," describes Ukraine as a "state in decline." He goes on to say: "The regime of President Leonid Kuchma openly displays authoritarian tendencies, its economic experiments do not deserve the label of reforms, and its domestic rifts are as great as ever."

Russia is seeking to return Ukraine to its sphere of influence, while the U.S. is appealing to Ukraine to maintain its Western course.

The U.S. appeal, he adds, serves more as an admonition to Ukraine to take its reform efforts seriously, and not to whimper about membership in the EU and NATO. "Instead," he concludes, "it must develop policies that build a sturdy foundation for such aspirations."